Below, this sprig of bedstraw (Galium sp) has almost finished blooming with just one flower and many seeds. The plant feels sticky because its stems, leaves, and seed pods are all covered in tiny hooked bristles that act like Velcro.
In Schenley Park the tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) have finished blooming, the “tulips” are fading and dropping their petals.
As birdsong wanes the bugs are taking over the soundscape. I’ve already heard the first crickets and an unknown-to-me insect that buzzes at 5,000 hertz in Schenley Park.
And who is this? None of us could name him yesterday at Moraine State Park. Can you identify this hunched insect with bright orange antenna tips? If so, please leave a comment.
In Pennsylvania we plant azaleas and rhododendrons in our gardens but we can also find them in the wild. I am reminded of this in late May when the cultivated rhododendrons and wild azaleas bloom.
At the garden store azalea bushes are short dense shrubs that bloom in April, while rhododendrons are tall woody shrubs that bloom in late May. Scientifically they are all Rhododendrons with minor differences. The big difference for me is that the garden plants bloom four to six weeks before the wild ones.
Yesterday I found flowering rhododendrons on Pitt’s campus. Some were white (below) like their wild progenitors shown at top in Fayette County.
Others were hybridized to create purple flowers.
To see the wild ones I visit the Laurel Highlands around the Fourth of July, especially Ferncliff Peninsula at Ohiopyle State Park. Nowadays it pays to go a little earlier than the Fourth because climate change has moved things up.
Meanwhile last weekend at Moraine State Park Karyn Delaney found wild azalea in bloom.
Sometimes wild azaleas (Rhododenron periclymenoides) are called “pinkster” in southwestern Pennsylvania but it’s not because the flower is pink. They were named “pinxter” for the Dutch word for Pentecost because wild azaleas bloom at that time of year.
This year Pentecost was 23 May. Wild azalea is blooming right on time.
(photos by Kate St. John and Karyn Delaney)
p.s. What’s the difference between an azalea and a rhododendron? Not much. They have slightly different leaves and azalea flowers usually have 5 stamens while other rhododendrons have 10.
Back in May 2014 I mused about Jack in the Pulpit in Schenley Park and his amazing story. For starters, Jack can be both male and female, but not simultaneously. Click to learn more at Jack Explains Himself.
Have you ever seen these long black ropes draped on a fallen log? They were hidden under the bark before the tree died, and they’re the reason the tree died. These are mycelial cords or rhizomorphs of Armillaria, a genus of fungi that ultimately kills trees. It attacks the trees from underground.
Instead, Armillaria spreads by the rhizomorphs shown at top which travel only eight inches below the soil surface, advancing about 3.3 ft (1 m) per year. As they make contact with another tree they invade the roots and then the trunk. If a tree is already infected it will spread the fungus via root grafts.
Though it didn’t rain a lot this week April showers and chilly weather put a damper on outdoor plans.
On Monday 12 April we dodged the raindrops at Jennings to find ruby-crowned kinglets, field sparrows and a palm warbler. Rain beaded up on the trout lily leaves and rolled right off the dog violets. We got wet at the end of our walk. It poured on my way home.
This jetbead (Rhodotypos scandens) flower was fading by Thursday 15 April. Native to China and Korea, jetbead was planted as an ornamental but became invasive in eastern North America.
Squawroot (Conopholis americana), a native parasitic plant, is now emerging at the base of oaks and beeches. Alternative names include American cancer-root, bumeh or bear corn.
As the leaves come out so do the insects. Even though these hackberry leaves are not fully open yet, tiny winged insects are crawling in the crevices. When the warblers arrive they will eat the bugs. This tree can hardly wait!
After Friday’s chilly drizzle I hope for warm dry weather soon.
Blue-eyed Mary, 11 April 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
Pink flowers on blue-eyed Mary, 11 April 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
Rue-anemone, 11 April 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
Solomon's seal not yet open, 11 April 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
Common blue violet, 11 April 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
Spring beauty, 11 April 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
Squirrel corn, 11 April 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
Wake-robin trillium, 11 April 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
Wild blue phlox, 11 April 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
Yellow corydalis, 11 April 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
Wild ginger flower below the leaves, 11 April 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
12 April 2021
As soon as the trees leaf out the ground will be shady in Pennsylvania’s woodlands so our spring wildflowers are timed to bloom in April. I went to see them on Sunday at Braddock’s Trail Park in Westmoreland County, a place famous for blue-eyed Mary.
The captions identify each flower in the slideshow. Here’s a little more information:
Blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia verna) covers the hillsides at Braddock’s Trail Park. From a distance it looks white. Up close it looks blue.
A few blue-eyed Mary plants produce pink flowers.
Rue-anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides) is a delicate plant that blows easily in the wind. A strong breeze deformed the flower as I captured this image.
This week Pittsburgh’s sugar maples are clothed in spring green flowers while the oaks remain bare. Most trees bloom long before leaf out so their leaves won’t block the pollinators. These flowers take full advantage of the wind.
Did your allergies kick in this week? The trees are throwing off lots of pollen with little rain to lay the dust.
Insect-pollinated flowers will follow soon. On 3 April pawpaw flowers (Asimina triloba) were still tiny buds in Schenley Park but by the time they bloom the stems will be long and flexible. The dark maroon fetid-smelling flowers will hang like bells to attract flies and beetles. Click here to see a pawpaw flower.
Eastern redbud flowers (Cercis canadensis) had not opened in Schenley as of 7 April, but they showed promise.
Spring cress (Cardamine bulbosa) was blooming at Raccoon Wildflower Reserve on Easter Day.
This winter I noticed that when moss grows up the base of saplings it looks like leggings on the trees. At Raccoon Wildflower Reserve I found an entire group of saplings wearing mossy leggings. Click here to see the whole group. (Anyone know what this mossy phenomenon is?)
Spring green will continue in the coming weeks as tiny leaves pop open and more trees bloom.